Lockdown life: Keeping on top of car maintenance
It's of no news to anyone that the world is a VERY strange place at the moment. Unless you live on Mars and have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about. How is the wifi connection up there, anyway?
But yes, thanks to this horrible, evil virus forcing us to put our lives on hold and stay at home, we've all had to accept we're not going to be jumping in the car for a road trip any time soon. Sigh.
That being said, we shouldn't let our trusty 4-wheels sit and decay on the drive while the world figures itself out. The last thing you want to be hearing is the sound of a flat battery when you actually get the green light to leave your house. So, here's how to keep your car in good nick while it's waiting patiently for you.
Hang in there buddy, you'll feel the wind beneath your wheels again soon.
How to avoid a flat car battery
There could be many reasons why your car battery could zonk out on you. The main causes are:
- Losing charge over time from not driving
- Leaving your headlights or interior lights on
- Cold weather
- Short journeys
- Grimy battery terminals
- Faulty component - like an alternator
- It's just old and tired!
At the moment, the two boxes we're ticking are not driving and short journeys (if the supermarket isn't within walking distance or if you're a key worker still driving.) So, here's some maintenance tips to help keep your battery healthy.
Start your engine up regularly
Fire up the ignition and leave the car running for a little while (make sure you stay in your car though guys, we don't want to see an increase in theft claims). This will help prolong your battery life and maintain its charging capability.
If you can do this every few days your battery will tick over nicely. The longer you leave it, the more likely the battery is to drain and not start when you need it most.
Get under the bonnet
Look, none of us are the Michelin Man when it comes to car knowledge (although a few of us may look like him by the end of lockdown) but if you can open the bonnet and do a basic inspection of the battery terminals - you'll be doing yourself a big favour.
Corrosion is what you want to be looking out for - that rusty material usually caused by battery acid escaping. Check the terminals to see if there's a faulty connection and if you're all good, just make sure they're fitted tightly and the battery sits properly within its fitting.
If there is some corrosion, give the terminals a thorough clean and wipe off any rust and residue that's formed so the battery gets a clear connection.
While you're under there, check the battery date too. It'll be stamped with a code from the date it was manufactured. 5 to 7 years is the optimum battery age before you might want to look into replacing.
Buy a trickle charger
Yep - this is a new one for me too, but apparently there is such a thing called a trickle charger and it's great at keeping your battery topped up in times like this. If your car is parked on a driveway or garage, plug the trickle charger into the mains and connect it up to your car.
You'll be able to order a trickle charger for home delivery for around £20-£30 from any major auto retailer or online homeware brand. Just bear in mind delivery may not be as speedy as usual.
Keeping your car road worthy
The good news is, car, motorcycle and van owners whose MOTs had been due from 30th March 2020 have been given a 6-month extension on having the test done. But you'll still be expected to keep your vehicle in a safe and roadworthy condition.
If you need to drive for essential reasons, here's 5 general maintenance checks to do:
Check your fluids
Check all the car's fluid levels including oil, engine coolant, brake fluid and screen-wash to make sure they’re (at least) at the minimum recommended levels.
Test your lights
Check that all of your lights are working properly by asking someone you live with to stand outside the car. If no one is around to help, try and park in front of a reflective surface like a window, and you’ll be able to check the lights using your mirrors.
Tyre tread depth
Get down low and check all your tyres have sufficient tread depth and no defects. The minimum legal tread depth in the UK is 1.6mm and all you need to check that is to put a 20p coin (actual physical money, how weird?) into a tyre groove. If you can see the outer rim of the coin, they’re too low and you'll need to replace your tyres.
Speaking of tyres, while you're down there you should also check they're properly inflated. You’ll be able to find the recommended tyre pressures for your car in the handbook. That's the thing you probably excitedly picked up to read once you first got the car, then shoved in the glovebox, never to see the light of day again. Yeah, that one.
If the car hasn't been driven for a good while, gently try your brakes when you first set off to check they’re working properly. If they’ve built up corrosion, you'll hear a crunching noise - and if this persists, or you feel any vibration through the pedal, you may have warped brake discs and you'll want to book your car in to get that looked at.
In line with Government guidance, garages are providing essential services to keep the road transport network moving. Therefore, if you have a problem with your battery or other parts of your car such as tyres, brakes and exhausts, our teams are there for you.
Car servicing and repairs
Tax and insurance checks
Just because you're not driving DOESN'T mean you don't need car insurance or tax. It's so important to remember that your insurance doesn't just cover you in the event of a crash - it covers you from fire, theft, accidental damage and vandalism, all of which are really important right now if your car is parked up and the worse was to happen.
The ONLY exception where you wouldn't need car insurance is if you make a statutory off-road notification (SORN), where you won’t be able to use your car at all, even for essential or emergency journeys.
If you don't have access to a drive while the virus pandemic continues, park your car in as safe a place as possible and remember to use your handbrake if you’ve left it on a slope.
During lockdown, please remember to follow Government guidelines and avoid making any unnecessary journeys in your car. Read ingenie's latest FAQs on the Coronavirus and your car insurance.
By Katey Gregory
Katey Joined ingenie in 2014 and is in charge of all things social and content. She passed her driving test in 2015 and her first car is a Toyota Yaris T3 named Tyrone.